When the Treasury select committee first looked into private equity, my impression was that the "expert witnesses" spent much of their time, initially at least, explaining what private equity actually was and how it worked.
This is understandable. Labour MPs are for the most part either public sector professionals or professional politicians. They have barely, if any, experience of the financial services sector nor much understanding of it. For the most part their grasp of economics typically sucks major ass as well. Right now we are in the most serious economic crisis since the great depression. This originated in complex financial instruments. Looking at the Labour party I'd guess only a very small minority have a reasonable grasp of all this.
This is a tragedy because financial services in Britain are currently being re-regulated. Doing so badly will be a disaster for the economy given it's economic as well as social, moral and political implications. Changing leaders and cabinet ministers is a good means of ensuring it is done badly.
The Tory party, in my view, have been a waste of space thru-out the credit crunch. Any discussion I've seen involving a Tory bod has been a waste of time because they have barely understood whats going on and have had no meaningful or practical alternatives to offer. Again this is understandable because in my view the Labour government has actually responded very well to the current crisis. Its easy to find examples of failure (e.g. overly complex mortgage benefit arrangements) and then theres the pre-credit crunch policies and their implications re: government borrowing. But, on balance the response has been a good one - wide-ranging, relevant, flexible and innovative.
Set against this is James Purnell's resignation and resignation letter. In my view he's decided Labour will get humped in the next general election, but so what? Government's tend not to survive serious economic downturns regardless of a leader's ability to "connect with the people". Accepting that and getting on with things regardless would be a genuine example of public service.
Instead, Purnell is playing a long game - its not about whether Gordon brown remains prime minister tomorrow or whether Alan Johnson can lead Labour to victory in the next election (his failure in turn clearing the way for David Miliband), its who might be foriegn or home secretary in a Labour government in 10 years time. By taking this stand today he is attempting to establish himself as a political big beast tomorrow. It strikes me as reasonable to assume his personal ambition is a key factor here.
Except, he is helping to destablise an administration that is, in my view, doing the best it can and doing better than most other Western governments. This is a tragedy given just debating whether Gordon Brown should remain prime minister by itself recently knocked down the value of the pound i.e. made things more expensive for everyone in Britain.
Alternatively, Purnell genuinely believes what he is doing is for the best. If so he is a fool. The current political climate is about trying to comprehend the revulsion felt by much of the electorate over MP expenses. The expenses scandal is a bad thing, but, it would be much better to have the economy sorted first. I can only read Purnell's actions as a genuinely selfless act from the perspective of the Labour party with Gordon Brown being positionined as the fall guy for the selfish actions of however many Labour (& Tory & Liberal) MPs. Except given this is undermining the government's ability to function and lets be blunt, it's future calibre at a critical juncture, it leaves Purnell placing party before country.
Purnell is himself involed in the expenses scandal. He is now the former work and pensions secretary who claimed more for food each month than an unemployed person recieves in benefits to cover their food, drink, utility bills, clothing and entertainment. As such he has no moral authority whatsoever. As a professional politician he lives at a significant remove from real life. It strikes me this distance is a key factor in his thinking and decsions.
Purnell has certainly made a name for himself, just not the one he is hoping for.